Health Department Closes Popular Hispanic Market for Health Violations

County health inspectors have temporarily closed a popular San Diego supermarket, after finding cockroaches, rodent nests and droppings, food stored on the floor, and other serious health violations.

The closure happened Wednesday at the Pancho Villa Mercado on El Cajon Boulevard near Interstate 805 in Normal Heights. The supermarket sells fresh produce, hand-made tortillas, hot Mexican bread and other foods. It attracts hundreds of customers daily, from all corners of San Diego County.

Inspection reports obtained by NBC 7 provide details on the violations, which include "too numerous to count live and dead cockroaches" in the bakery and juice areas, a clogged and overflowing floor sink and no hand soap in the tortilla-making areas, and foods being cooled at unsafe temperatures in the deli.

The violations outlined in the 13-page report were a shock to some loyal customers, who were turned away at the front door.

"I never saw anything (like that), and I don’t (shop at) dirty places," said Delfina Woolley, who drives from El Cajon several times a week to shop at Pancho Villa.

Dr. Harold Koenig and his wife, Deena, found it hard to believe that conditions inside their favorite market were bad enough to prompt the closure.

"I would never think this place would be closed, on my observations. And I’ve been shopping here for five years," Koenig said.

Koenig is a physician and retired Navy Vice-Admiral who directed naval health care and has lived and shopped around the world.

"Preventive medicine and sanitation were all part of my responsibilities, and I didn’t see anything here that had me concerned," he said.

Pacho Villa’s manager did not answer when called for comment on the health department's report and the store’s closure.

Cleaning crews were seen at work inside the building, whose windows were partially covered with dark paper.

The closure should be only temporary. The store manager can request a re-inspection after correcting those deficiencies. If the market is in compliance, it can re-open.

The County Department of Environmental Health (DEH) conducts regular, unannounced inspections of all permitted food establishments to ensure they’re complying with state and local food safety laws.

A DEH spokesperson said inspectors focus on "major risk factors," including foods from unapproved sources, improper holding temperatures, inadequate cooking, contaminated equipment and poor personal hygiene.

Inspectors also look for signs of vermin and improper sewage disposal. When a major violation cannot be corrected immediately, DEH inspectors will close the facility until the violation is corrected.